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Pearl Bryan: chapter one continued

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Pearl Bryan
Secret London
Murder Ballads

The most promising candidate of all at this stage was Francisca Engelhardt, a Cincinnati woman who'd recently taken up with a Dakota doctor called Kettner. Engelhardt had disappeared from the boarding house where she lived, and it was Anna Burkhardt, her landlady there, who came forward. When allowed in to inspect the body, Burkhardt was more certain than ever. "I could recognise her hand out of hundreds," she said. "She had remarkably beautiful hands and always held up the right one in a peculiar position when speaking. When I saw the body at the morgue, I took her hand and placed it in that position, and the resemblance strongly confirmed my first conclusion."
Crim must surely have rolled his eyes at Burkhardt's testimony - first a dream identification, and now this! But there was good reason to take Dr Kettner seriously as a suspect. He'd just vanished from Cincinnati too, and police quickly discovered that he'd married Englhardt without troubling to divorce an earlier wife first. This discarded wife had been pursuing him from town to town ever since, and had refrained from suing him so far only because she lacked the funds.
Neither Burkhardt nor Engelhardt then knew that Kettner was a bigamist, but they didn't quite trust him anyway. When the landlady warned Englehardt to be wary with this one, she replied that she carried the wedding certificate on her at all times, tucked beneath the bosom of her corset. If Kettner had been anxious to recover that wedding certificate for fear it might incriminate him, then perhaps that would explain why the dead girl had been found half-stripped, but not sexually assaulted.

Most people still assumed the dead girl was a prostitute, and that her killer must be a soldier

"Superintendent of police Deitsch and Mayor Caldwell considered this the best clue on which the detectives could work," Barclay tells us. "Dr Kettner had a motive, which made this clue seem the right one for such a deed as committed at Fort Thomas. Being a bigamist, and fearing that his first wife, who followed him so many miles, would prosecute him, his only hope was to secure the marriage certificate and other evidence against him." Police pursued this line for a few days, and eventually traced Kettner to Marquette in Michigan, where Francisca was found alive and well and still living with him. It turned out the couple fled Cincinnati only because Kettner knew his real wife had arrived in town, and he considered that a little too close for comfort.
As long as the dead girl could not be named, most people still assumed she was a local prostitute, and that her killer was a soldier. I spoke to Debbie Buckley of Fort Thomas Military Museum during my visit there, and she told me Colonel Cochran's men would then have accounted for well over half of the nascent town's population. "At that time, the soldiers were just getting ready for the Spanish-American war, so the fort was a pretty big deal," she said. "I think there were something like nine bars in that area. People came from all over the place, and I'm told there were a lot of women of the night who came from Newport and Cincinnati to entertain the soldiers."
Bernie Spencer confirms this point on his Kentucky history site. "There was a lot of rivalry between the north, central and south parts of what is now Fort Thomas," he writes. "There was much dissension in the area, and much blame placed on what was interpreted as the general hooliganism of the fort." (10)
Cochran was well aware of all this, and wanted to be sure his men weren't unjustly blamed for the killing. "He will order a search of every man's clothing and quarters and a careful examination of the whereabouts of every man on the night of the murder," the CE reassured its readers. "He is confident no man of the regiment has anything to do with the cowardly crime. He merely wishes to clear them of all suspicion."
Cochran was determined no-one would be able to dismiss his investigation as a whitewash, so he invited the civil police to join the searches, and ensured they could thoroughly satisfy themselves that his men were innocent. This meticulous approach paid off, and Barclay reports that Crim and his colleagues were soon convinced no soldier had been involved. "Until that point, the community really was suspicious," Buckley told me. "A generation or two ago, moms didn't want their daughters coming down there near the fort because of all the soldiers. I'm sure that's been in play for a hundred years."